Meridian's Community Gardening Initiative Takes Off

By Joe Morris on May 14, 2014 at 6:00 am EST

Interest in locally grown food has never been greater. In Meridian, colleges and the community are taking sustainable agriculture to a whole new level.

Go Green Meridian

For proof, look no further than “Love & Peas,” the community garden founded by Go Green Meridian (GGM) in 2013. As an offshoot of the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi (GGSIM), the group is tasked with educating area residents about how locally grown food benefits both the environment and the economy. Love & Peas, on Highway 493 in north Meridian, is the most visible example of that, says Craig Wilkes, president.

“We want to teach people how to grow food sustainably and responsibly,” Wilkes says. “We’re also working on additional gardens with the Boys & Girls Club and the Meridian Freedom Project. We’re talking with the city about taking over abandoned land so we can build more gardens. We’ve gotten more than 100 volunteers, so there is a lot of interest.”

Colleges Get On Board

Many of those volunteers are from Mississippi State University – Meridian and Meridian Community College, where everyone from biology students to those studying the culinary arts are eagerly pulling weeds and planning menus.

“We have scheduled work days every other Saturday,” says Dr. Jarrod Fogarty, biology instructor at MSU-Meridian, where a newly installed greenhouse has become a starter site for many of the garden’s vegetables. “We planted about 1,500 seeds.”

Fogarty says the garden is a great teaching aid, and allows students to grow not just vegetables, but heirloom herbs and more. He’s adding new courses over the next couple of years, so current and future students will have ways to utilize it.

Over at MCC, tomorrow’s chefs are today’s weed pullers, a situation that suits Ann Howard Hill just fine.

“I want to incorporate community gardening into our programs so students don’t just cook food, but see where it comes from,” says Hill, program coordinator and chef instructor for MCC's Culinary Arts Technology Program. “It’s easy to place an order from a big food purveyor and get it dropped off at your door. It’s better if they can put in the hard work that goes into receiving that end product.”

The process of clearing land, building raised beds and more got that message across, she says.

“They see the hard work, but also the benefits,” Hill says. “Now they take much more care with their food – they use every little bit. It’s not just teaching them about healthy food, but also how to use a resource that’s right in front of them, and to use it responsibly.”

Garden Is Business Enterprise

Meridian’s efforts have been so successful that it was chosen to host the statewide GGSIM conference in April 2014, and the garden’s bounty is making its way to the Meridian Area Farmer’s Market and Meridian Main Street’s Earth’s Bounty every first Saturday from May to November. If Craig Wilkes has his way, this is just the tip of the shovel.

“People have really jumped in, and it just shows how much interest is there,” he says. “Who doesn't like to grow food?”

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It's staggering the quality entertainment the [MSU Riley Center] has brought to Meridian. We are fortunate to experience this here without having to travel to larger markets. Instead, we benefit from tourists coming to us.

Wink Glover, longtime Meridianite